Luther College Chips

The Nile Project runs through Luther

Selamnesh Zemene from Ethiopa performs at the lecuture in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.

Selamnesh Zemene from Ethiopa performs at the lecuture in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.

Olivia Enquist (‘19) | Chips

Olivia Enquist (‘19) | Chips

Selamnesh Zemene from Ethiopa performs at the lecuture in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.

Olivia Enquist, Staff Writer

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The Nile Project, a collective of musicians who collaborate and engage with citizens living along the Nile River, performed on March 4 in the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) as a part of the Center Stage Series. They also gave a lecture on March 3 to explain the issues surrounding the Nile and how the group formed.

The Nile Project was formed in 2011 to build cross-cultural connections through music as a response to the rising geopolitical tensions regarding the Nile river basin. The river basin includes 11 countries of various economic states and cultural histories: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt.

In the lecture, Nile Project Producer and Chief Executive Officer Mina Girgis discussed the importance of communication to cultivate sustainable choices regarding the future of both the river and the people that depend upon it. Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Political Science Rachel Brummel explained what makes the issues regarding water in the Nile River basin so complicated.

“Environmental problems don’t pay attention to political borders,” Brummel said. “The environment doesn’t pay attention to whether it’s Iowa, Minnesota, Ethiopia, or Egypt. The Nile Project is such a cool example of people who have recognized the challenge that comes along with sharing resources, but being from countries that define their interests by national boundaries.”

Brummel added that the large number of countries within the Nile river basin makes it one of the most complicated watershed issues.

“The Nile river basin is so interesting because it has some of the most complexity when it comes to geopolitical issues, in the number of countries that are involved, as pretty much any river basin in the world,” Brummel said. “A river basin is basically defined by the fact that all the water in the area drains, effectively, into the Nile River. If you drop any water in parts of Ethiopia, ultimately that water will end up in the Nile River.”

The musicians worked to build collaboration across diverse communities and to incorporate differing music styles and modes into their sound. The result reflects the diverse cultural and musical traditions within the countries they come from.

Audience member Sam Poppen (‘19) appreciated the unique musical style.

“That’s the first time I’ve really been exposed to that form of music in a live setting and I really loved it,” Poppen said.  “Its tonal quality was just very interesting to listen to because it’s so different than what we usually hear. On top of the music, the message of love and peace that they brought, especially since they each come from differing countries and backgrounds, was really refreshing and full of hope.”

Throughout the performance, the musicians explained the history or origins behind instruments they were playing. One of the musicians stopped to introduce the Ugandan adungu, a multi-stringed instrument that sounds similar to a ukulele. Another musician introduced the Burundi iumuduri, which is a bow like instrument that is hit with a stick.

The musicians encouraged audience participation through singing and clapping. Performing Arts Committee President Sheri Schwert (‘17) explained that PAC tries to bring musical groups that will connect to the Luther and Decorah communities.

“The Decorah community is based around the Upper Iowa River and has a huge stake in keeping the river healthy,” Schwert said. “Understanding that the Nile River floods once a year and the Upper Iowa River, it seems, does the same. We have that small connection with something so far away.”

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